Don't get me wrong: I'm not nostalgic for the Cold War. Yet, would you agree that there was a certain beauty in the symmetry of the Cold War world? Two superpowers, locked in the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) embrace, exchanged equally painful, perfectly "symmetric", blows: eye for eye, tit for tat, yin for yang.
Then the Soviet Union was gone, the bipolar world gave way to unipolar – with the United States remaining the only superpower — and with the new arrangement came what is called "asymmetric response." It is what an offended party, unable to prevent a hostile action against it, launches to make the cost of the offense too high (for the offender) to accept.
Russia considers two developments — the U.S. deployment of elements of missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic and acceptance of Georgia and Ukraine to NATO — as the major threats to its national security.
Its reaction to the Ballistic Missile Defense Agreement between the United States and Poland bears all the hallmarks of asymmetric response: unable to thwart the deployment 0f 10 interceptors in Poland, Russia has promised to target them with nuclear weapons.
Russia's military offense against Georgia — in retaliation to Georgia's aggression in South Ossetia – carries elements of asymmetric response, too. By destroying Georgia's military installations and recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia — causing a de facto partition of the country — Russia has made Georgia's once seemingly unavoidable accession to NATO all but a joke.
But there is much more to Russia's actions. The key to understanding its position in the conflict lies in the statement that President Medvedev made on August 8, the very day Georgia’s military assault on the citizens of South Ossetia began. Addressing a meeting of his Security Council, Medvedev has said: “Russia always was and will ever remain the guarantor of security in the Caucasus.” Viewing all the following events in the context of this statement, Russia's deliberate use of overwhelming military force against Georgia — its first outside Russian borders in post-Soviet history — is a perfectly symmetric, superpower-style response to what Russia justifiably considers as a threat to its strategic national interests.
Ironically, it's the United States that has failed to meet Russia's bold moves head-on and is now frantically scrambling to find whatever available asymmetric responses it has. Expelling Russia from the G8 group of industrialized countries, severing the Russia-NATO cooperation, and preventing Russia's acceptance to the WTO are the measures that are most frequently discussed.
The idea of throwing Russia out of the G8 is hardly new and is especially popular in the U.S., while other members of the group, in particular, Europeans are rather lukewarm, if not outright opposed, to the idea. True, the exclusion of Russia from the G8 will inflict some pain on the Kremlin, whose hosts are very sensitive to Russia's image as a "great power." Even a month ago, such a move would have been a tremendous humiliation to Medvedev. But much less so today, as the domestic audience will consider this as no more than a "punishment" for the right cause. The Kremlin propaganda machine will easily convert the "G8-minus-Russia" black spot into a badge of honor.
Already, a deputy from the United Russia faction sitting on the Duma International Affair Committee opined that Russia's membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) might be more important and even more prestigious than its participation in the G8.
I fail to understand why so many pundits believe that Russia — as a country— really wants to join the WTO. In reality, the whole WTO thing is driven by only a bunch of liberally-minded politicians eager to promote Russia's economic cooperation with the West. (And their stock has been in a downfall lately). The only real reason why Russia is still not a part of the WTO is the energetic and skillful opposition of the powerful agribusiness lobby.
Prime Minister Putin's recent statement that Russia "should abandon some of the commitments it made during World Trade Organization accession talks" has sent waves of joy through certain corners of the Russian government. A prominent member of the lobby, Federation Council's member Sergei Lisovsky, has called Russia's WTO chief negotiator, Maxim Medvedev, the "enemy of the people" and suggested that Medvedev should be "imprisoned." Lisovsky went further and demanded that the 2005 agreement encouraging U.S. poultry exports in Russia be immediately scrapped.
Will Russia be hurt by denying its accession to the WTO? Just ask the folks at Tyson Foods.
Proponents of Russia-NATO cooperation will be hard pressed to point to a single tangible result of this uneasy relation, and it is unlikely that any side will suffer from its suspension. I'm not a military expert and cannot say to which extent the cancellation of FRUKUS-2008 will dent the readiness of the U.S. and Russian fleets. What I do know is that it's good for the environment in the Japanese Sea.
The only possible victim of freezing Russia-NATO relations could be Dmitry Rogozin, the Russian Ambassador to NATO. Rogozin just settled in Brussels less than a year ago, and now, he may be forced to update his resume again. Should President Medvedev continue harassing Georgia's leader, Mikheil Saakashvili, he could send Rogozin as Russia's Ambassador to Tbilisi.
I know, such response to Saakashvili's arrogance will be "brutal" and "disproportional." I'm not sure whether it's symmetric or asymmetric.